Parshat Bha'alotcha -
The Special Task of Shevet Kehuna

The first Rashi in this week's Parsha quotes the famous Midrash that explains the juxtaposition between the first topic in Parshat Bha'alotcha - the mitzvah for Aharon to light the Menorah (8:1-4) - and the last topic in Parshat Naso - the twelve day dedication ceremony of the Mizbayach (7:1-88):

"Why is the parsha of the Menorah juxtaposed to "chanukat han'si'im?" When Aharon saw the daily dedication offering by the 'n'si'im,' he became depressed, because neither he, nor his shevet, took part in this ceremony. God reassured Aharon saying: Do not worry, your portion is greater than theirs, for you are to light and attend to the Menora every morning and evening."
Is Aharon Really 'Left Out?'
Ramban immediately questions the basic assumption of this Midrash. Could it be that Aharon is depressed because he felt 'left out?' After all, each "nasi" enjoyed only one day of special attention, while Aharon was at the center of attention during each of those twelve days! Did he not offer all of the korbanot on each of those days, as well as the k'toret and korban tamid? Furthermore, during the miluim ceremony (Vayikra 8:1-36) which preceded the dedication, he and his children enjoyed seven days of 'exclusive attention.' For what possible reason could Aharon have felt 'left out?'

In his commentary, Ramban is unable to find a satisfying explanation of this Midrash according to "pshat." Instead, he suggests that the intention of the Midrash is simply to provide a biblical source for the Hasmonean revolt:

"Even though Aharon did not participate in the dedication of the mizbayach of the Mishkan, in the merit of his descendants - the Hasmoneans - the mizbayach of the Second Temple will be dedicated. Furthermore, in commemoration of that event, a Menorah will be lit in every home, even after the destruction of the Temple." (see Ramban 8:1)
One could suggest an alternative explanation of the Midrash, without the need of limiting its significance to the events of Chanuka.

Coalition Politics
The opening statement of the Midrash - "chalsha da'ato shel Aharon" (Aharon became depressed) - requires explanation. [Ramban raises this question, but does not answer it directly.] Considering that Aharon is indeed at the center of attention and very busy during each day of the dedication ceremony, why should he become depressed?

To understand Aharon's reaction (according to the Midrash) we must consider the political realities of his predicament. Bnei Yisrael are about to leave Har Sinai and begin their journey to conquer and inherit the Land of Israel. Although Aharon is indeed a very key figure during Bnei Yisrael's short stay in the desert, he is apprehensive about what will take place once Bnei Yisrael leave Har Sinai. Most likely, the focus of national attention will shift from Har Sinai and the Mishkan to the excitement of military initiatives and political enterprise.

As Bnei Yisrael begin their conquest of Eretz Canaan, it will be specifically the twelve "n'si'im" (the tribal leaders) who will hold the highest positions of national leadership. They will establish economic policy; they will make treaties with foreign dignitaries; they will make the speeches at national gatherings; they will lead the nation in war. In modern phraseology, they will become the Ministers of Defence and the Treasury, Secretaries of State and Foreign Affairs.

Thus, it is quite unerstandable why Aharon becomes depressed. When he sees the attention that the twelve "n'si'im" receive, he realizes the insignificance of his position within the emerging national leadership. What ministry post will he receive? In his own eyes, he is merely the "shamash" (beadle, attendant) taking care of the Mishkan, for his job is very technical. Will he have any influence at the national level? At best, he may possibly be appointed "Sar HaDatot" - the Minister of Religion. Within a short time, Aharon fears, he will be far away from the public focus.

An Important Cabinet Post
Thus far, we have suggested a reason for Aharon's depression (according to the Midrash). What is significance of God's consolation - that he will light the Menorah?

It would seem that specifically the Menorah is chosen to symbolize an additional aspect of his national duties, i.e. teaching God's laws to the people. This double purpose is mentioned in the blessing to Shevet Levi in Parshat V'zot HaBracha:

"They shall teach Your laws to Yaakov, and your instructions to Yisrael, they shall offer Your incense... and offer the 'olah' ('kalil') on Your mizbayach..." (Devarim 33:10)
In reality, teaching actually becomes the primary duty of the Kohanim and Leviim. Since their work is divided into 24 week shifts, the average kohen or levi finds himself working in the Mishkan only two weeks a year. Therefore, most of their time is spent teaching and judging the people (see Devarim 17:8-10), for their cities are scattered throughout the twelve tribes of Israel (see Bamidbar 35:1-8 and Yehoshua 21:1-40).

Thus, the Menorah may symbolize specifically this duty of the Kohanim - "chinuch," teaching. Just as the Menorah spreads light in all directions, so too the kohanim spread the Torah to the entire nation. This understanding explains why Aharon is consoled when told that it is his job to light the Menorah.

Continuing our "mashal" from the political arena, Aharon and his "shevet" are consoled by being given the mitzvah to light the Menorah. This mitzvah reminds them that they are destined to control the Ministry of Education and Justice (as well as the Ministry of Religion) - a cabinet position no less important than any other.

Virtual ClassRoom enhancements by Reuven Weiser.

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